Molecular mechanisms of response in gastrointestinal stromal tumors treated with imatinib mesylate

John Christopher McAuliffe, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) represent 80% of sarcoma arising from the GI tract. The inciting event in tumor progression is mutation of the kit or, rarely, platelet derived growth factor receptor-α (PDGFR) gene. These mutations encode ligand independent, constitutively active proteins: Kit or PDGFR. These tumors are notoriously chemo and radio resistant. Historically, patients with advanced disease realized a median overall survival of 9 months. However, with modern management of GIST with imatinib mesylate (Novartis), a small molecule inhibitor of the Kit, PDGFR, and Abl tyrosine kinases, patients now realize a median overall survival greater than 30 months. However, almost half of patients present with surgically resectable GIST and the utility of imatinib in this context has not been prospectively studied. Also, therapeutic benefit of imatinib is variable from patient to patient and alternative targeted therapy is emerging as potential alternatives to imatinib. Thus, elucidating prognostic factors for patients with GIST in the imatinib-era is crucial to providing optimal care to each particular patient. Moreover, the exact mechanism of action of imatinib in GIST is not fully understood. Therefore, physicians find difficulty in accurately predicting which patient will benefit from imatinib, how to assess response to therapy, and the time at which to assess response. I have hypothesized that imatinib is tolerable and clinically beneficial in the context of surgery, VEGF expression and kit non-exon 11 genotypes portend poor survival on imatinib therapy, and imatinib's mechanism of action is in part due to anti-vascular effects and inhibition of the Kit/SCF signaling axis of tumor-associated endothelial cells. Results herein demonstrate that imatinib is safe and increases the duration of disease-free survival when combined with surgery. Radiographic and molecular (namely, apoptosis) changes occur within 3 days of imatinib initiation. I illustrate that non-exon 11 mutant genotypes and VEGF are poor prognostic factors for patients treated with imatinib. These findings may allow for patient stratification to emerging therapies rather than imatinib. I show that imatinib has anti-vascular effects via inducing tumor endothelial cell apoptosis perhaps by abrogation of the Kit/SCF signaling axis.

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Recommended Citation

McAuliffe, John Christopher, "Molecular mechanisms of response in gastrointestinal stromal tumors treated with imatinib mesylate" (2007). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3287850.